Journalists slam Smriti Irani’s attempt to muzzle media

Amended PIB guidelines for accreditation of journalists to ‘regulate fake news’—in which complaint is enough to lead to suspension—targets mainstream media and not the online fake news factories

Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images
Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images

NH Web Desk

On April 2, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting amended the guidelines for accreditation of journalists to Government’s Press Information Bureau to ‘Regulate Fake News’. PIB accreditation allows access to government media briefings and events, and is issued to some print and broadcast journalists—ie mainstream media—on request, based on procedures. Accreditation is thus an important facility for political reporters to gain information and ask questions at ministers’ briefings. At present, accreditation is not available for non-print and broadcast journalists, such as for digital news websites. Ironically, most ‘fake’ news is generated from some of these digital websites, some of which are barely veiled political campaigns running in guise of being news media.

The ministry note released by PIB on April 2 included the following points:

  • Noticing increasing instances of fake news in various mediums including print and electronic media, govt has amended the Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists
  • On receiving any complaints of fake news, these would be referred to Press Council of India (PCI; for print media) and News Broadcasters Association (NBA; for electronic media), for determination of the news item being fake or not
  • Determination is expected to be completed within 15 days by PCI and NBA
  • Accreditation of the accused correspondent/journalist will be suspended as soon as the complaint is registered for determination; before even the determination regarding the fake news is made by PCI and NBA
  • If the news was confirmed to be 'fake’, accreditation will be suspended for 6 months in the first violation, one year for a 2nd violation and in event of 3rd violation, accreditation would be cancelled permanently
  • It adds that future requests for accreditation will depend on whether the journalist has adhered to the PCI and NBA’s 'Norms of Journalistic Conduct’ and 'Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards’.

Editors, journalists say changed guidelines ignore online fake news factories, and aim to muzzle mainstream media

Senior journalist Suhasini Haider, the Deputy Resident Editor and Diplomatic Affairs Editor of The Hindu, was among the first to call out the ministry order as targeting mainstream media and not the online media, where much ‘fake news’ originates. Haider said "With its order today, government makes it clear that it only wants to penalise those who are accredited, i.e "Mainstream media". The I&B ministry’s "Fake News" threat doesn't extend to those websites that openly flout journalistic ethics, some q often quoted by Ministers.”

I&B Minister Smriti Irani responded to Haider by propagating fake news that the latter was supporting fake news, when Haider had done nothing of the kind. Smriti Irani also claimed that PCI and NBA would determine whether a news item was fake or not, and not the Government.

But journalists were unimpressed with the minister’s arguments, and several senior journalists and editors condemned the attack on mainstream media. An emergency meeting has been called at the Press Club of India in Delhi at 4 pm to discuss the amended guidelines.

ThePrint founder Shekhar Gupta called it a “breathtaking assault on mainstream media” and called upon all media to bury their differences and jointly resist.

Journalist Anuradha Raman invited the minister to actually read the NBA’s Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards, which says that “The interference by the government, however well intentioned, would imperil not just this method of independent journalism, but the very process of investigation itself.”

Executive Editor at NDTV Nidhi Razdan called it a “gag order”.

Journalist Govindraj Ethiraj, founder of IndiaSpend, and BOOM FactCheck said “To pin the problem of fake news on mainstream media displays a staggering lack of understanding of the problem or a deliberate attempt to muzzle..both are worrying”

Print and Broadcast journalist Swati Chaturvedi called the guidelines “idiotic” and recalled the Emergency.

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Published: 03 Apr 2018, 10:23 AM